Thumri festival: Of bhaav, bandish, and much more – art and culture

Surrounded by a thick clump of white, yellow, orange and red gerberas, and a picture of a sal tree in the background, the stage at the Kamani auditorium seemed like a spring-time garden. The hall was filled to the brim with around 600 people, young and old.

And the real spring was to be listened, than to be seen. It was the spring of music, invoked in the hearts of the audience by the great artists of Thumri – a light romantic form of Hindustani classical music.

With love, separation, and devotion as its major themes, Thumri was once among the most popular art forms in the royal courts of Awadh, and appeals equally to the classical music connoisseurs as well as those who prefer lighter musical art forms.

It is still adored and followed by the lovers of Hindustani classical tradition, evident in the house-full audience on all three days of the Thumri Festival, organised by the Sahitya Kala Parishad of the Delhi government

Started on Friday, the festivel witnessed the performances of legendary artists like Girija Devi, Channulal Mishra, and Ghulam Saqid Khan among others.

The 79-year-old Pandit Chhannulal Mishra was a show-stealer in the first day. With long white hair, and a round vermilion tilak on his forehead, and dressed in a glowing orange silk Kurta dotted with golden round spots, this energetic artist was accompanied by his son Ramkumar Mishra, an excellent Tabla player. Mishra started with something unusual – a popular Carnatic music composition from South India, “Vatapi Ganapathim” in Rag Hamsadwani, praising Lord Ganesha.

Kamani Auditorium at Mandi House, where the three-day Thumri festival was held (Sruthin Lal/ HT Photo)

Moving on to Thumri, he made the concert more interactive, often explaining to the audience the Bhraj Bhasha lyrics and the different styles in Thumri, and taking requests from the audience on what to perform.

The performance had it all – extremely complex renditions for those who love the technicalities, the soothing melodies for those who love to immerse themselves in the feel of music, and the explanations for those who want to understand more about this form of Hindustani music.

Kakli Mukherjee – who performed first in the day – with her mellifluous voice created the feeling ofSawrariya’s (your beloved) romantic gaze in her Bandish “Kahe mose naina laga.” This was perfectly backed by Sarangi – an instrument that invokes a mix of sadness and pain, and Harmonium and Tabla.

Aarti Ankalikar filled the auditorium with her powerful voice when she performed more than six Thumris, including Bandish and Jhoolas. The prolonged classical Hindustani training was visible in the singing style and complex recitations of the national award winning play-back singer.

Listening to the Ghulam Khans whose music lineage traces back to Miya Tansen was a delight. Performing on the second day, the veteran maestero Ustad Ghulam Sadiq Khan was with his son Ustad Ghulam Abbas Khan and grandson Ghulam Hassan Khan. Although the age has taken a toll on Sadiq Khan’s performance, it was compensated by the brilliant preformances of the son and grand son.

“Syam sundar banwari,” a bandhish set in Raaga Khamaaj made the audience visualise the beauty of Lord Krishna, the banwari, when the trio’s melody painted it in their minds.

Having the words “khuda” and “Bhagwan” in the same bhajan also showcased the secular tradition of Thumri, that rose to popularity in the 19th century under the patronage of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah. A blend of Hindustani classical with traits of folk literature and music, Thumri has dohas of bhakti poets as the core.

“Thumri is often an expression of the love for Lord Krishna and with time a number of lighter forms have emerged from its folds like Dadra, Chaiti, Hori, Kajari, Saavan and Jhoola,” said Sadiq Khan.

The day also witnessed the performances of Debashish Dey, whose fresh, soulful voice with the novalties in his singing style made the performance memorable. Anjali Pohankar was the other performer.

The third day had the performance of Girija Devi, a true living legend who is now at her 87th year.The audience greeted her by a standing ovation when she entered onto the stage.

“I have a special love for Delhi, and have been coming here [to perform] since 1952. So I could not say ‘no’ [when they invited me to perfom],” she told the audience, before she started the performance with a Thumri in Mishra Bihag.

The performance was brilliant mixture of Bhaav (the feel) through which she conveyed meaning of each lines in its right emotions, and exqusite Taans that awestruck the audience. She wore an adorable smile throughout, and appreciated the accompanying artists through it, and her hand gestures.

When the tabla player, apparently in his early twenties, earned an applause from the audience, she said, “this kid is the sixth generation in his family performing with me.”

The day also had two excellent singers from the east India, Uma Garg and Nabhodeep Chakraborthy, performing.

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